Tag Archives: bible study

Shabbat Shira – it’s music

Halleluhu by Laya Crust

Parshat B’Shalach                        Haftarah: Judges 4: 4 – 5: 31

Music is magical. We can’t see it, touch it, smell it or taste it. We can hear it and magically it can transform our mood and take us to other places in our imagination. We all know about love songs (a billion), break-up songs (2 billion), songs of tribute (“Starry Night” about Vincent Van Gogh) and patriotic songs (“La Marseillaise”and “HaTikvah”). All our secrets can be unearthed (“Killing Me Softly”) and raw emotion can be exposed (Stravinsky’s compositions).

Music is a beautiful union of art, science, math, and imagination. I remember a friend of mine- a physicist- being amazed and unbelieving when I told him I loved music. “How is that possible? ” he asked. “You’re an artsy.” I was really surprised by that comment because I had always thought that music was art and emotion. That was when I found out that there is a close relationship between science and music.

Miriam’s Song by Laya Crust

Music is an integral part of joyous Judaism. In the Torah portion B’Shalach we read “The Song of the Sea”.  It is Moses’ song of praise to God that was sung after the Israelites safely crossed the Red (or Reed) Sea, and were saved from the angry Egyptian army. The women, led by the prophet Miriam, sang and danced and made music on their “tof”, a handheld drum. There is a beautiful painting of the women led by Miriam playing their drums in The Golden Haggadah, and another lovely rendition in The Sarajevo Haggadah.

Devorah the Prophetess by Laya Crust
(inspired by a painting from a 17th C. Judeo-Persian book)

This Bible reading describing the escape into the desert, across the sea, and the ultimate Song of the Sea is paired with an adventure story in the Book of Judges. Led by the prophet Devorah the Israelites won a battle against Sisera’s Army. A woman named Yael completed the defeat by killing Sisera. Devorah then sang a song of praise about the triumph and Yael’s conquest.

 When we are happy, when we are sad, when we want to remember or forget, when we want to meditate or pray, be left alone or celebrate with others we often turn to music. Because it is a comforting, joyous and spiritual medium the most beautiful parts of prayer are often paired with music. The painting at the top of the page shows biblical instruments mentioned in “psoukei d’zimra”, prayers we say in the morning.

On this Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song, pay attention to the songs and music composed by Moses, Miriam, and the prophetess-judge Devorah. Enjoy the art, the sounds, and the music around you and have a Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

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B’ Ha’alotecha

Behaalotchaart by Laya Crust

Numbers: ch 8- ch 12 Zechariah:  ch 2:14 – 4:7 Zechariah was a prophet in Jerusalem around the year 520 BCE.  The Jews had been exiled to Babylon but under King Cyrus were allowed to return to Jerusalem. Zechariah and Haggai encouraged the people to stop being so despondent and start rebuilding their destroyed temple.

Zechariah by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel

This haftarah is replete with angels- angels talking to Joshua and angels talking to and waking Zechariah.  Zechariah tells the angel that he has had a vision of a golden menorah flanked by two olive trees. A bowl  above the menorah has seven pipes funneling olive oil to the menorah.  When the angel realizes that Zechariah doesn’t understand the symbolism of the vision he explains that the trees represent the leadership of Joshua and Zerubbabel in building the Second Temple. The angel says, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” meaning that the reestablishment of the Jewish people will come through faith, not war.

Cervera, Spain, c. 1300

My illustration at the top was based on this beautiful manuscript painting from Spain, with the menorah panted in gold leaf. The menorah was a central fixture in the Temple and was lit by the Kohanim. The wicks of the menorah were arranged to shed light in one flame. That light can be seen as  the light we bring to the world.

Interestingly, is is the menorah that is the symbol of Judaism and the emblem of the State of Israel.

On that thought , may you have an illuminated week and weekend, full of flaming conversation and bright ideas.

Laya

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Shabbat Shira – it’s music

Miriam's Song

Miriam’s Song by Laya Crust

Parshat b’Shalach

Haftarah: Judges 4: 4 – 5: 31

Music is magical. We can’t see it, touch it, smell it or taste it. We can hear it and magically it can transform our mood and take us to other places in our imagination. We all know about love songs (a billion), break-up songs (2 billion), songs of tribute (Starry Night  about Vincent Van Gogh) and patriotic songs (Le Marseillaise). All our secrets can be unearthed (Killing Me Softly) and raw emotion can exposed (Stravinsky).

It is a beautiful union of art, science, math and imagination. I remember a friend of mine- a physicist- being amazed and unbelieving when I told him I loved music. “How is that possible? ” he asked. “You’re an artsy.” I was really surprised by that comment because I had always thought that music was art and emotion. And then I found out the close relationship between science and music. I’ve been working on a new composition (visual, not musical) for an engineer (physics, not train). Because he is, from what I can tell, equally music and science oriented I wanted to merge the two fields in my painting.  My intention is to merge the spectrum of tone, the measure of the notes and the background ordering of the staff. Here is a draft of my ideas:

20150127_183737art by Laya Crust

Music is an integral part of  joyous Judaism. In the Torah portion B’shalach we read “The Song of the Sea”.  It is Moses’ song of praise to God that was sung after the Israelites safely crossed the Red (or Reed) Sea, and were saved from the angry Egyptian army. The women, led by the prophet Miriam, sang and danced and made music on their tof, a hand held drum. There is a beautiful painting of the women led by Miriam playing their drums in The Golden Haggadah, and another lovely rendition in The Sarajevo Haggadah.

This Bible reading describing the escape into the desert, across the sea, and the ultimate Song of the Sea is paired with an adventure story in the Book of Judges. Led by the prophet Devorah the Israelites win a battle against Sisera’s Army. A woman named Yael completes the defeat by killing Sisera. Devorah then sings a song of praise about the triumph and Yael’s conquest. halleluhu0052

 The painting here shows biblical instruments mentioned in prayers we say in the morning.

When we are happy, when we are sad, when we want to remember or forget, when we want to meditate or pray, be left alone or celebrate with others we often turn to music. Because it is a comforting, joyous and spiritual medium the most beautiful parts of prayer are often paired with music.

So enjoy the art, the sounds, and the music around you.

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

I would love it if you would share your thoughts or stories about music. Even if it’s lyrics to ballads by cowboys, the loneliest lyrics in the world.

 
Artist in Residence,  The Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Textiles, Toronto

website  layacrust.com

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VaYeira- Women and Mothers


VaYeira Sig

Kings II, ch. 4: 1-37

Elisha- (prophet) c.   720 BCE

In this Haftarah Elisha the prophet saves a woman from the ruin of debt by miraculously providing her with enough oil to pay her creditors. A second story in the parsha concerns a woman from Shunem who builds and furnishes a room for Elisha to stay in when he travels through the town. In gratitude Elisha blesses the woman and her husband with a child who will be born in the coming year. A few years later the son dies. The Shunammite woman confronts Elisha asking him why he had given them a child only to have him taken away so cruelly. Elisha brings the boy back to life. (This is possibly the first description of mouth to mouth resuscitation in history).

In the parsha illustration we see the room on the roof with the furnishings described in verse 10. There are also 3 pots of oil, alluding to Elisha’s aid to the widow in the previous story.

The over arching theme of this week’s readings is one of faith. For instance, Sarah is expected to believe- have faith- in three strangers. They tell her that she will become pregnant and raise a child.  Sarah is a 90 year old childless woman! Can you imagine running around after a toddler in his terrible twos when you are 92 years old? Changing his diapers? I can’t- but I digress. The point is that she and her husband Abraham are expected to believe what Gd communicates to them.

Faith is indeed a theme in these stories but there’s another strong idea. That is one of motherhood and the relationship of a loving mother to her children. Each of the women we read about- Sarah, Hagar, Lot’s wife , Lot’s daughters, the widow and the Shunemite woman are, or become, mothers. They are faced with difficult situations and their over riding thought is how best to protect their children. Even in the case of Lot’s daughters they want to be sure to create a new generation of children.

As often happens in TaNach (the Jewish Bible) women are major figures in a narrative but they aren’t given names. They are the unidentified thinkers and planners. At times angels or messengers communicate with the wives, not with their husbands. Gd told Avraham to listen to Sarah’s counsel. The widow whom Elisha helped had to make sure her sons weren’t sold into servitude. The Shunemite woman – not her husband- created a place for Elisha the itinerant prophet to stay.

So- when you read text, read carefully. There are many incidents that are glossed over. Some are about nameless women, but those women were leaders in their own right.

Research Alert:    I am gathering information about exceptional Jewish women throughout history. If you have ideas or insights about outstanding female Jewish leaders please send them on to me. I’m especially looking for the names of women who lived in North Africa (Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Ethiopia etc.) the Far East, and South America. I’m also interested in women from before the common era through to the 13th and 14th Centuries.

Have a wonderful Shabbat. May we hear news of peace and tranquility throughout the world.

-Laya

 

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VaYikra

Vayikra sig

Vayikra

Isaiah 43:21 -44:23

Isaiah (prophet)  c. 740 – 681 BCE

This week we read the first parsha in the Book VaYikra- the Book of Leviticus. VaYikra means “and He called”. It commences a series of instructions God gives the Israelites concerning sacrifices. The theme of Leviticus is one of holiness, and holiness is described in different forms throughout the book.      (note: “Leviticus” is a Latin word meaning “from the Levites”)

Isaiah lived and prophesied in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. At the beginning of his life both kingdoms were successful and prosperous. During his lifetime the Northern Kingdom of Israel was destroyed.  The Southern Kingdom of Judah barely survived a takeover by Assyria.

At the time of this haftarah the Jews are in exile. They are worn down, defeated, and turn from God to worship idols. Isaiah calls to them telling them that God notices they have abandoned the altars and sacrifices and they have stopped worshiping Him. Instead they are offering sacrifices to man made gods. God tells the Israelites He will not abandon them.  He says, “Even as I pour water on thirsty soil and rain upon dry ground, So I will pour My spirit on your offspring”.

In my haftarah painting at the top of the page I show a willow tree by a river. There are sheep grazing in the fields , sacrifices burning in the background, but abandoned altars overgrown with grass in the foreground. In the text God says, “And they shall sprout like grass, Like willows by watercourses…”

I wanted to show that the Jews have forgotten God. Even so, God is waiting for the Jews to resume their observance of God. They have lush fields, herds of sheep and flowing rivers, yet they have turned away. God waits until they return and will bless their children.

Interestingly many scholars think the Book of Isaiah was written in more than one section. Dating back to the 12th Century Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra was convinced that chapters 40 – 66 were written by one or more prophets who lived in exile in Babylon, after the destruction of the the Southern Kingdom. That would have been about 150 years after Isaiah died.  This second section is often called “Deutero Isaiah” or “Second Isaiah”.

This haftarah is a very beautiful, poetic composition. I hope you’ll read it and enjoy!  Shabbat Shalom.

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Shabbat Zachor

Shabbat Zachor sig

Samuel 1    ch. 15:1 – 34

Samuel- prophet.  He anointed the nation of Israel’s first two kings- Saul and David.

Additional reading: D’varim/ Deuteronomy 25: 17-16

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Zachor- the Shabbat of Remembrance. In preparation for Purim, which falls next week, we have an additional Torah reading about the evil King Amalek. He is identified as the ancestor of Haman, the villain in the Purim story.  Amalek  instructed his army to attack the  Children of Israel, specifically the defenseless and the weak as they walked through the desert after leaving Egypt.

This Shabbat’s haftarah recounts a poignant story about King Saul and his dealings with Amalek. The prophet Samuel tells Saul that he is to remember what Amalek did to B’nei Yisrael  (the children of Israel). Saul is to go and destroy ALL the Amalekites, the young and the old, and all their possessions. King Saul gathers his warriors and they go to do what has been commanded of them.

Saul and his warriors flatten the towns, and kill the inhabitants and their cattle- but he spares Agag the Amalekite king and keeps the choicest animals to offer as sacrifices to God. When God sees what has happened He instructs Samuel to reprove Saul and take away the kingship from him.

The text is beautifully written. With short, strong phrases the human mistakes Saul makes are recounted and the heavy directive to Samuel is described. Saul, a man with a good heart, carries out most of what God told him to do. But as Samuel reminds him, “Though you are little in your own sight were you not made head of the tribes of Israel? And the Lord anointed you King?…” The spirit of God is taken away from Saul and Samuel turns his back on the broken king. As Samuel walks away Saul falls to the ground and grabs Samuel’s cloak. The cloak rips in his hand, and Samuel tells Saul, “The Lord has ripped the kingdom of Israel from you this day and given it to a neighbour of yours that is better than you…”

It is a heartbreaking story of a fallen King. The most tragic element is that Saul had never wanted to be king. He wanted to live a simple life but monarchy was thrust upon him. He wasn’t a natural leader, he was a follower. In this situation he followed the desires of his nation rather than the commandment of God.

The evil of Amalek is presented in the additional reading and in the haftarah. The readings are  precursors to the story of Purim, the Jews rising against Haman- a descendant of Amalek. As we read we are reminded that in every generation there rises an enemy, and we have to have faith in God and listen to God’s teachings.

Read the story. It’s  another exciting and emotional incident in our canon. And remember it’s OUR story. Shabbat Shalom.

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